Britain’s duty to advance equal rights in Palestine/Israel


Whatever our assessment of Britain’s past role as an imperial power, since the Second World War the United Kingdom has played an important role in establishing a new rules-based order in international affairs, and contributed to peace keeping in many parts of the world. In recent months, we have rightly stood with Ukraine in opposing the Russian invasion and occupation of that country, and in caring for those who have fled their homes during the conflict. But as this conference has shown, our record in Israel/Palestine has betrayed these same principles. Even today when we sometimes say the right things, we fail to take action that would turn them into more than words.

Britain stayed on in Palestine after the First World War for its own, self-interested, imperial purposes. In doing so, its watchword was hubris. It frustrated the legitimate aspirations of the people of Palestine, who Britain knew full well did not want British rule, but wanted to determine their own future.  When Britain’s Mandate ended, it abandoned them to their fate, despite the “sacred trust of civilisation” by which Britain was obligated to secure their “well-being and development”, and to bring them to independence.

The Nakba began while Britain was still fully responsible for Palestine, and continued following Britain’s abandonment of Palestine. It continues to this day. The Nakba is a tragedy that has  proved to be an unresolved, destabilising factor throughout the decades that have followed.  We call on our Government to own up to our responsibilities, and to act accordingly.

Britain has not joined over 130 member states of the UN in recognising Palestine alongside Israel as a state covering the Palestinian Territory which Israel occupied in 1967. It opposed the investigation at the ICC , as demanded by Palestine, of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has not spoken out when Israel declared six respected Palestinian human rights NGOs to be “terrorist organisations”. It won’t call things by their name and state publicly that the blockade of Gaza is a collective punishment. It won’t demand that Israel end its fifty-five years of occupation of the OPT forthwith. It won’t pass legislation to declare Israeli settlements on occupied land to be illegal, de facto annexation, and to outlaw all dealings with settlements in a manner consistent with our obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2334. On the contrary, it seeks to outlaw ethical investment policies by local authorities which might impact on the settlements.  Why won’t it ban from the UK all those who perpetrate or incite violence, including violent settlers and those who aid and abet them? And why won’t it press the Palestinians to hold long overdue elections, including in East Jerusalem, and to create an independent judiciary? 

While we take concrete measures to  support Ukraine in its wish to maintain its independence and to secure its territorial integrity, we take no such concrete measures with regard to Palestine and the Palestinians. The entrenched injustice and inequality in the Holy Land threaten the security of us all. Long ago, we breached our “sacred trust of civilisation”. Now is the time for us to do what we can to repair the damage we inflicted through our acts and omissions when we held the Mandate over Palestine. We have a duty to advance equal rights.

NB The above Balfour Project statement engages the charity only. We respect the diverse views of all those who kindly contributed to this conference; the  statement does not engage our guest speakers.

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